It’s all about perception, my dear

There are countless people who give up the little time and money they have each day, at huge personal sacrifice, to help the needy. Most remain faceless, while the leader of the country and his wife shine.

The Prime Minister’s tweet yesterday congratulating his wife Michelle Muscat for being named Volunteer of the Year by a State funded council was widely scorned. She was not in Malta to collect her award, since she was photographed in the Bahamas four days earlier attending a lunch with the Prime Minister’s wife there.

The issue at stake was not the validity of Michelle Muscat’s contribution to charity which includes a 10-hour swim to raise funds for the charity she chairs, but the lack of institutional sobriety that comes across when organs of the State bestow honours on the immediate family members of high ranking officials.

As the news hit social media, parallels were made with autocratic regimes.

jacques rene zammit michelle muscat

The Prime Minister’s wife is at the centre of corruption allegations revealed in the run up to the June general election over the Panama Company Egrant, which is now the subject of a magisterial inquiry. No number of marathon swims is going to dim the seriousness of those allegations.

The fact that they are not proven is through no fault of the public. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that justice is delivered within a reasonable timeframe. When the Police Commissioner insists on eating rabbit while the owner of Pilatus Bank leaves for the airport with bulging bags, suspected to contain documents, hours after Daphne Caruana Galizia published a document linking Egrant to Michelle Muscat, it is obvious that claims of innocence are taken with a pinch of salt.

Trust in the police had already been eroded by their refusal to investigate corruption allegations on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and ‘star’ Minister Konrad Mizzi based on conclusions drawn in reports by Malta’s anti-money laundering agency. Instead, the police hauled in journalists in an attempt to identify the source of the leak.

In this context, it is not about allegations not being proven, but about the course of justice being undermined.

The award to Michelle Muscat yesterday may seem inconsequential, but context is everything.  It came hot on the heels of 10 suspects being arrested in relation to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October. Three men with a long history of criminality that somehow mostly went unpunished, were arraigned in court last Tuesday.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was not investigating any of the 10 suspects hauled in by the police (equipped with better audio-visual production capabilities than usually used for their marketing videos), but she had a lot to say about Egrant and Michelle Muscat. Her husband in fact called a snap election soon after the journalist published the allegations.

This is what her sister said on Facebook: “The names of suspects who are now out on police bail first appeared in an Italian publication which said that Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote frequently (“moltissimo”) about one of them, Adrian Agius. A search for Adrian Agius’s name on [her site] will turn up three short posts, none of which are investigative and all of which were published more than three years ago on the same day (12 October 2014).

“There are no earlier or later posts about Adrian Agius and there are no posts at all about Robert Agius, Rudy Camilleri, Anton Cachia, Jamie Vella, Sandro Cilia, or Miguel Caruana, who are all out on bail, and none about Vincent Muscat, George Degiorgio, or Alfred Degiorgio who were arraigned last night”.

Reporters Without Borders yesterday reiterated its call for a full and independent investigation to bring those responsible to justice.

Matthew Caruana Galizia

Action taken to apprehend anyone involved in the journalist’s assassination is welcome news, but her family was critical of the “marketing exercise” surrounding the investigation. While it is undeniable that her assassination has fuelled criticism of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s failure to tackle corruption, public relations gives no solace – rather it fuels contempt – at this juncture.


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